SNATCHED on a bogus photo shoot, a needle plunged into her arm, awakening bound and drugged, certain she would be sold into sex slavery.
It’s a nightmare almost beyond comprehension, and one that made sickening headlines when the world discovered it had allegedly happened to UK glamour model Chloe Ayling in Italy last July.
But then, amid the shock and outpouring of sympathy and the arrest of Lukasz Pawel Herba, on charges of kidnapping for ransom, with his brother, Michal, also accused of being involved, came the questions. The details that some thought didn’t add up.
As she broke down in interviews detailing her ordeal, Ms Ayling did not find universal sympathy, with some questioning her “odd” behaviour”.
Why was she alternatively chirpy and heartbroken as she spoke about the kidnap? Why, when her captor took her to buy shoes during the six days she was held hostage, didn’t she run? And when she was freed, why didn’t she initially mention the trip to police?
She’d said her mouth was taped, so how did she yell at the driver of the car when she was bundled into its boot?
And why her captor’s sudden change of heart? He released her after six days, she says, when he discovered she was a young mother.
Could it all have been a publicity stunt? Certainly, that’s what Herba claimed, telling a court in December he and Ms Ayling had orchestrated the whole thing together.
The Milan court dismissed the claims the 20-year-old mum of one was in on the crime.
But still the questions persisted.
LURED, DRUGGED AND HANDCUFFED
No matter how many times Ms Ayling denies the accusation, the doubts continue to dog her, even as Herba went on trial earlier this month in Italy for the kidnapping.
She tells 60 Minutes in an exclusive interview this week she is the victim, not the mastermind, of an elaborate publicity scam.
In court last week, Italian investigators and police testified Ms Ayling suffered physical violence, including being drugged, handcuffed and “brutally transported in luggage” when lured to Milan for an alleged modelling job which saw her held for six days at a farm near Turin.
But when his lawyers backed his claims the kidnap had been a publicity stunt, and offered explosive CCTV footage of her holding hands with him as they shopped for shoes during her captivity, the doubt in the court of public opinion surfaced again.
Ms Ayling wasn’t there to fight the claims: she’s been excused from testifying, although Herba’s lawyers are fighting that decision. Instead, she was reportedly off skiing, having jetted to Switzerland ahead of the trial.
But not before her lawyer told the BBC she was “saddened” many people did not believe she’d been kidnapped.
Ms Ayling’s lawyer, Francesco Pesce, said his client had been terrorised and threatened with death. He said she had suffered mental and physical abuse during the six-day ordeal last July, and that Ms Ayling would not give evidence in court because she did not want to see her alleged kidnapper’s face again.
He said she had been interrogated for almost 13 hours last August and her request not to return to Italy for the trial had been granted.
“She’s had enough,” he said.
‘THEY ARE GUILTY’
Ms Ayling’s 60 Minutes appearance sees her undergoing a grilling about the ordeal at the hands of reporter Liam Bartlett.
Asked if she is offended there are people who suspect she masterminded the whole thing and made the story up, she tells Bartlett: “It doesn’t offend me, no.”
She added: “Because I get it, there are people just picking parts of the story … So I see why people have doubts, because if it wasn’t me, I would think it was just crazy.”
She says she is “100 per cent” certain the brothers are guilty.
If they are locked up forever, she says, “well, so they deserve it”.
Bartlett quizzes her on omissions and inconsistencies in her story, including why she did not tell Italian police she’d been shoe shopping with one of her alleged abductors during the ordeal.
“I’ve heard of Stockholm syndrome, but not shoe shopping syndrome,” he observes.
When the BBC asked Mr Pesce about the hand-holding, he said “there is nothing to defend”.
“She doesn’t appear to be happy or smiley — she acts like a hostage,” he said.
“She was being terrorised by this man, who kidnapped her and took her to a place in the middle of nowhere. It was psychological terrorism.
“She wanted to stay on his good side — as the alternative was to die.”
‘I CAN’T FIGHT OFF TWO GROWN MEN’
Reliving the moment she was allegedly abducted, Ms Ayling tells 60 Minutes: “I was about to put my hand on the door that said ‘Studio’, just to open it, check if anyone was there and what’s when I was attacked from behind.
“One person put his arm around my neck and the other hand with a glove on my mouth and my nose. And another masked man rushed in front of me and held a syringe to my arm.
“Obviously, I was trying to fight back because I didn’t want that to go into my arm.
“I was trying to make a fist, but I can’t fight off two grown men, so they managed to get the syringe into my wrist and then I was unconscious.”
She opened her eyes to discover “restraints on my mouth”, she said.
“I didn’t know what it was at first. And I had hands in my handcuffs, and my ankles were handcuffed as well,” she says.
“I was trying to feel where I am, I heard the engine so I knew I was in a moving car. I started shouting ‘driver!’ like as loud as I could.
“They didn’t say anything. Not a word.”
She says she was injected with Ketamine. Bartlett observes Ketamine can also be “a party drug, can’t it?”, and asks, “Have you ever had it before?”
She replies: “No. I don’t do drugs, I don’t even drink, really.”
If convicted, Herba faces up to 25 years in prison for abduction. His trial continues.
60 Minutes airs on Sunday at 8.40pm on Channel 9